A Short Part of Sunday

We enjoy a cloudy hike in 80 degree weather before a late bread-filled lunch on the beach.

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Number 138

Caleb wakes again to the sounds of glass breaking against rocky ground and a metal fire ring, so he’s up again to calm these people down just to get back in the tent in time for the rain to start at 2am. We left the rainfly in the car and the screen door on the tent isn’t holding any water back. I struggle to hold part of the tent door over the opening while Caleb throws the rainfly on and dries off with his shirt inside the now humid sleeping compartment.

a five-stripe or black-throated sparrow

Even after all this, Caleb is up with the sun and getting beautiful photos while he lets me sleep, which we both know is a role reversal of how our trips usually go. He gets me up and we leave the tent to dry, though we’re not staying here another night and chancing an encore of last night’s events. We’ll hike the Skull Rock Loop in the opposite direction and find the marked trail way easier to follow.

This is a great start to our morning and there is only one other person out on the trail with us. Breakfast has soaked properly upon our return and we take it with us as we drive into Twentynine Palms for gas, water, and the cultural center that opens at 830 to renew our park pass that expired in May. Lucky us, the farmer’s market is already set up and we get some Brazilian lemonade, evaporated milk being the key ingredient, to add to our list of new things tried.

We’ll carry our 32oz cup around while we look at clothes, vegetables, jewelry, and job opportunities with paid training. The milk balances the sour but I’m grateful we shared the large, easily fermentable, drink before the heat made the lid pop off. Inside the park’s new visitor center is an exhibit about Key’s Ranch and we’re told we have to get our pass from the ranger booth at the park entrance. We buy a new adventure edition atlas and drive back south.

We turn around because we forgot to get water and then we will u-turn again before the park to visit the Sky’s the Limit Observatory and Nature Center that’s been here since 2010… talk about leaving something to come back for. Mike is quick out of the shade to hand us a postcard and offer a tour of the orrery and point out other structures over 200 yards in the distance that represent the rest of the solar system from where we’re standing next to the pinhead replica of Earth on an easier to grab globe so he can keep up with its orbit every four days and move the first four planets accordingly.

La Quinta Cove Oasis

Back in the park and we stop at the first trail we see and wander out some while the temperature is still in the 80s. We spook a family of quail and stumble upon some baby coyote melons growing in the rough sand. We drive back to Jumbo Rocks for our tent and the quiet makes me want to nap but Caleb says there’s not enough shade or breeze for that.

The heat continues to increase and causes the clouds to leak a bit as we make our way south to the Cottonwood Visitor Center where we dump sand out of our shoes before going to the picnic area for lunch. This idea of giving us energy for hiking only fuels us to find a small hotel room with the A/C blasting on the bed for over an hour so we can regain brain function for the remainder of the day.

Yuan Dynasty — blend of Mongolian and Han Chinese elements

Our camping spot was $20/night and our room cost us less than that thanks to a loyalty program. With a nap in we’re able to drive to La Quinta Cove Oasis for a short exploration of the beautiful desert in all its 105 degree glory before Caleb starts looking up museums. The first one is now a medical plaza but the Museum of Ancient Wonders is still open and being watched over by two guys — one you pay and the other gives us a guided tour of the Cathedral City exhibit leaving the numbered fossil timeline, Asian guidebook, and solar system walls to do the rest.

Toraja ancestor figure, Ifugoa people statuette (Bulul), no info, Batak people ornament (Singa)

We made it to the museum just before their one-hour before closing entry policy so they’re packing up to leave behind us. Dinner will be picked up from a place with the word bakery in the name, but they specialize in cakes, not delicious breads. Caleb got a turkey rueben and I got a slice of deep-dish marionberry cheesecake so we could both try something new, even if mine will be breakfast. After a shower my hair feels more gross and after a little bit to eat I’m definitely ready for sleep.

Venus of Willendorf

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Finding City Sounds in the Desert

We start the weekend with a sleep deficiency and I’m sure taking brisk morning walks in the cool of 4am doesn’t add to my REM but it does give me a sweaty back for Caleb to rub. I finish a post and a book before going to work but am home by 11am and Caleb soon after so we decide we’ll go camping for two nights to escape the noises of Imperial Beach and replace them with the soothing sounds of nature.

We were in for a surprise. We packed shorts and wool shirts, granola and pasta, tent and water. I grabbed my camera and we were on the road heading north by the afternoon. There was a weird amount of stop-and-go traffic, some road construction delays, and a short stop at the Ricardo Breceda Gallery and Sculpture Garden to peek at some large metal creations before continuing on the 79 east.

I enjoy the downhill cruising and slight breaking when necessary on the Pines to Palms Highway and then we seem to arrive to an empty Joshua Tree National Park. We revel in the solitude and put on our hiking shoes. Smiles on our faces and some sand in our toes we find spot 100 at Jumbo Rocks Campground around 6pm. Caleb set up the tent and I made dinner before setting off on a hike.

The Skull Rock Loop being the closest we thought it would be a nice 1.7 miles, but we have trouble coming out of the campsite and it only gets more difficult once we get lost on the other side of the road. This is definitely the lack of sleep catching up with us, but luckily we have a speed limit sign to guide us on a shortcut and once we see the skull we can find our way back over the last half mile.

We happily refill our already depleted energy reserves with the help of the wooden utensils I keep in my purse, since we forgot a few car camping necessities. We then attempt to read with the light of dusk but the best way to handle someone else’s screaming child is to yell back at them. Luckily, the mom was respectful about the situation and I apologized, but her husband’s personality was embarrassing.

My little outburst got the other sites near us to turn off their music and we put away books in exchange for stars through the partly-cloudy sky with tons of planes flashing their lights and some possible aliens getting their aircraft across our view in a hurry. This gives me time to recall my idea earlier of a show called Camp Swap, where couples, or families, get to use the gear of another couple at the same site. I also think about time travel but with the ability to have the mindset of the time you’re visiting.

Anyway, I think it’s time to put our thoughts away for the day and carry them into my dreams. Most campsites have quiet hours between 10pm and 6am, but since this is one of the few open in the park we are stuck between a couple in and out of their car and yelling at each other in the dark and two guys even louder overusing the word bro trying to hear each other over their music at 1130pm. Caleb gets up to tell them to turn their music down and there is a temporary reprieve.

Maybe I missed the memo, but I feel that music should be reserved for cars, showers, gyms, museums, and concerts, etc. People also have the right to headphones, even if you can hear what they’re listening to on public transportation, but it saddens me that nature, not only overrun with light and plastic is now being ruined with sound garbage.

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Near Mohawk to New Mexico

Sleep was good but the slow sunrise in the desert was even more of a treat and I’ll watch the sun shine through empty train cars while Caleb puts the tent away. We’ll pull over for our morning walk, something that’s been a part of my day since we had dogs, and is why we still enjoy our evening walks, now without them. Getting out is to the soul what oxygen is to the lungs — refreshing.

We continue east to the Dwarf Car Museum where we take our time outside exploring rusted parts, license plates, and a pet cemetery before going inside to see the cars, more license plates, and toy cars. There are two guys and a cat, that looks like a smoker, watching the shop and they share some of the history and famous visitors that have made their way to this part of the desert.

We stop for more photo opportunities before getting to Biosphere 2, Earth being number 1, where eight people volunteered in the name of science in 1991 to spend two years confined together in an enclosed space representing a rainforest, an ocean with a coral reef, mangroves, a savanna, a fog desert, and a living area with laboratories contained in a little over three acres.

The facility was built to test humans’ ability to live in outer space and they experienced animal deaths, a lack of oxygen, and a food shortage which added to the tension. None of that is felt now as we walk up to the rainforest building that looks like a glass mountain so that the plants have plenty of access to sunlight. The experiments performed here inspired the film Bio-Dome in 1996, which might have made a few kids think about a future in research and preservation, but received terrible reviews.

It would be 24 years until a documentary, Spaceship Earth, was made on the brink of a worldwide quarantine into our homes and grocery stores and out of our routine of mass gatherings and small get togethers. But I’m not thinking about this while I stare into my reflection as I try to capture the beauty of the plants growing against the glass, metal, and rubber that keeps them steamy from their dry biome surroundings.

Looking at the kitchen, I imagine Caleb and me living here and wonder who else we would want to be stuck with cooking us dinner every eighth day and gathering enough coffee beans to share a cup every two weeks. The Biospherians went to the doctor every eight weeks for physicals and were able to maintain contact with family via a computer and phone.

There are three large artificial landscapes that make up the Landscape Evolution Observatory, so that scientists can better understand and measure where water goes in the landscape during precipitation and evaporation and how better to move this valuable resource to offset the negative effects of droughts and shortages in the future.

It’s one thing to see this place, but I can’t look at the rooms as individuals and not think about all the work it takes to keep this biosphere running properly — temperature alarms, goats on the loose, taking seed inventory, cleaning the office, measuring coral health, etc. every day. The tour is too short, but that usually seems the case when you don’t want something to end or know there’s more to be explored.

I’ve been to Mt Lemmon once before and remember the magic its elevation brought me as I made my ascent and I wanted to share that with Caleb as we attempted our way into the Coronado National Forest but turned around at the 24 minutes to traverse a five-mile dirt road, one-way, being on limited time for this trip and not knowing how close that road would bring us to hiking the 9,159-foot mountain.

Our route instead will take us to an unknown gift shop for hot jerky, spicy jam, and flavored pistachios before reaching Bowie. Here, we will walk by a boarded up Skeet’s Tavern, the charred remains of a house, and the empty, overgrown tennis courts at the high school before we explore the abandoned basement of The Teepee, which used to serve lunch and offer karaoke. Now, it would make a great backdrop for a horror film.

We enter New Mexico and are greeted with a palm tree wearing a bra and warning signs of what to do in a dust storm — swerve all over the road, speed up and hit the brakes a lot, remove seatbelt, and enter full panic mode — though that might just be the most severe case of dyslexia or disobedience, so you should probably read the signs for yourself the next time you’re in The Land of Enchantment.

But we don’t stop there. We drive through and reach Texas at 730pm as I start to get tired after a 500-mile day and look for a place to sleep. I think I’ve found a state park but the gate is closed and the highway closer, so Caleb will drive us to a rest stop an hour away and set up our bed in the car after not finding a smooth enough surface for the tent. I’ll get in a nice walk while he does this and he’ll join me before we climb in for the night.

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Getting Out of State

After a year of working at the hospital, in the limited duty department, Caleb was finally able to get orders to be an engineer again as long as he signed up for another year past his original retirement date of November 2023. Bahrain and Singapore were not an option, though he asked and waited for anything overseas, it would be back to LCS where he traveled last time to Alabama frequently and this time has the option of Singapore and Guam; which would be a new country for me.

Anyway, with a transfer comes a leave period (a military vacation) but instead of our usual one month break we could only take the one week that my job would allow, so we made the most of those nine and a half days. Cutting out the other seven days we had planned will give us something to look forward to on our next adventure, this one including our 14th anniversary.

We pack the car and leave by 5pm on a Friday. We’ll get as far east on Highway 8 as Exit 54 in Arizona which leaves us on a dirt road with space for setting up the tent versus sleeping in the car at the Mohawk Rest Area. We passed the miles by listening to tunes from our youth; when we were 15 to 25 years old. Dad calls back and it’s always nice to hear his voice, even if I don’t agree with what he’s saying, while I stare at the stars over the mountain peaks.

I’ll return to camp and climb in the tent that Caleb set up so that we can listen to Satan’s train drag metal across the desert. The next train sounds like it ran into the mountain and then drove over the broken rocks and glass. These are the joys of travel and camping. These are moments we look forward to turning into memories. We are so lucky to have these stories.

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